Saturday, December 27, 2003

it's the economy stupid redux 

From Zogby International:

The Top Issues For 2004 What issues matter most going into the new year? Polls suggest that even though the economy is bouncing back, it's still the issue voters cite most often as the most important issue facing the nation.

CBS News pollsters asked Americans in August whether domestic issues or foreign policy would matter more in deciding their presidential vote. Domestic issues won out by a 69 percent to 15 percent margin. When CNN/Time asked that question in November, domestic issues continued to dominate by a 61 percent to 32 percent margin.

The economy and domestic issues also were the top issues among two important demographic groups as well -- Democrats and Hispanics. In an October Marist Institute poll of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 74 percent said those issues were the ones they were most interested in hearing about during the campaign.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

happy holidays 

St. Nick as rendered by Thomas Nast

Here's wishing you and yours the best at Christmas and through the New Year.

But first, this word about last minute Christmas shopping.

when workers die 

The New York Times ran a series on deaths on the job in the US.

Start with this interactive feature.

From the New York Times:

CINCINNATI - As the autopsy confirmed, death did not come right away for Patrick M. Walters. On June 14, 2002, while working on a sewer pipe in a trench 10 feet deep, he was buried alive under a rush of collapsing muck and mud. A husky plumber's apprentice, barely 22 years old, Mr. Walters clawed for the surface. Sludge filled his throat. Thousands of pounds of dirt pressed on his chest, squeezing and squeezing until he could not draw another breath.

His mother, Michelle Marts, was the first in his family to hear.

"You just stand there like you're suspended in blank space," she said of that moment. She remembers being enveloped by a paralyzing numbness. He was her only child. She could not hear or breathe or move. Was this, she found herself wondering, what Patrick felt?

She called Patrick's father, her ex-husband, Jeff. "It literally knocked me off my feet," he said. "I lay there, right there on the floor, screaming and crying."

Part Two:

Every one of their deaths was a potential crime. Workers decapitated on assembly lines, shredded in machinery, burned beyond recognition, electrocuted, buried alive - all of them killed, investigators concluded, because their employers willfully violated workplace safety laws.

These deaths represent the very worst in the American workplace, acts of intentional wrongdoing or plain indifference that kill about 100 workers each year. They were not accidents. They happened because a boss removed a safety device to speed up production, or because a company ignored explicit safety warnings, or because a worker was denied proper protective gear.

And for years, in news releases and Congressional testimony, senior officials at the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration have described these cases as intolerable outrages, "horror stories" that demanded the agency's strongest response. They have repeatedly pledged to press wherever possible for criminal charges against those responsible.

These promises have not been kept.

Part Three:

GUSTINE, Calif. - For decades, Portuguese dairy farmers have dominated this wisp of a town on the windswept edge of the San Joaquin Valley. Tough, stubborn and hard-working, their families have prospered in a dusty land where death and injury are as close as a falling hay bale or a thrashing bull.

It is accepted fact here that life is hard and cruel, that risk is everywhere, that death is as random as the summer lightning. When your time comes, words will be spoken over your coffin at Our Lady of Miracles, and then life will push on, as it always has. "We're a `forgive and forget' community," is the way one town elder put it some years back.

This is the place that Roy J. Hubert Jr. has made his battleground.

A tall, bearded man with a taste for bow ties and pink dress shirts, Mr. Hubert is a prosecutor with a mission. He is part of a small team of circuit-riding prosecutors who are crusading to transform the Wild West mores of rural California, a culture they regard as far too tolerant of death on the job.

Their methods are simple, and controversial. With permission from local district attorneys, they bring high-profile criminal cases against employers who kill workers by violating workplace safety laws.

"We're trying to drive a behavioral change within business," Mr. Hubert said. "We're a negative reinforcer."

modern day slavery 

The Palm Beach Post has an extraordinary series on abuses in the immigrant labor market in Florida.

"For nine months, The Palm Beach Post explored the roots of modern-day slavery. Reporters and photographers traveled to destitute Mexican villages, crossed the desert with a smuggler, rode across the U.S. with illegal immigrants, found new claims of slavery, uncovered rampant Social Security fraud, and found that Florida's famous orange juice comes with hidden costs."

Start with this audio slide show. Links for the entire series are below.

modern day slavery 

From the Palm Beach Post:

Part 1
Used and Abused
How migrants live in Florida: With fake names, fake Social Security cards and few rights,
migrant farm workers stay invisible in plain sight.
Five recent slavery cases
Women: Farm imprisoned us
Labor under lock and fist
If it's Tuesday, he's Jose
Labor contractors control lives
U.S. obligingly provides fake IDs
What typical migrant makes
Harvesting with visions of home
Housing dodges health codes
Fellsmere migrants in squalor
Following the crops
Pickers wade in pesticide
A family album
Slavery, rape await defenseless
Load of 'Shame' has shifted
• Opinion: Still harvesting shame

modern day slavery 

From the Palm Beach Post:

Part 2
How They Come
Desperate journey: Driven by poverty, a crossing that can kill, a broken dream.
Four nights in the unforgiving desert
Where so many die
Vigilantes sweep desert
Bishop: Law is breaking migrants
Dispersing the human cargo
Van flip upends hope of paydays

Lives Affected By Slavery

modern day slavery 

From the Palm Beach Post:

Part 3:
The Real Cost
Fresh from Florida: A favored industry, a society burdened, a deadly cycle.
That glass of OJ is squeezing back
Some hidden costs of migrant labor
Machine harvests steadily growing
In Capitol, reform hits stony ground
Farmers make up powerful committee
U.S. 'guest worker' visa a pitted road not taken
Growers step up to weed their image
In their own words
Sealed trailer in Texas pays in widows' tears

Monday, December 22, 2003

lax florida rules imperil workers 

From the Palm Beach Post:

It takes only $75, a fairly clean criminal record and 45 correct answers on a true/false exam to get a license to hire, house, feed, transport and pay farmworkers in Florida.

If you can't read or write, you can take an oral exam. If you don't speak English, you can take the test in Spanish or Haitian-Creole. And if you still can't earn a 75 percent passing grade, you can take the test over and over until you do. That's how easy it is to become a farm labor contractor in Florida, where most of the nation's slavery cases have been prosecuted during the past six years and most of those sent to prison were farm labor contractors.

It is a license that allows the holder to control almost every aspect of a worker's life.

jury award called win for worker's rights 

From Yahoo News:

SAN FRANCISCO - Macan Singh left a village in India and came to the United States to work for an employer he says promised him an education and his own business one day. Instead, Singh says he ended up working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week for three years — for no pay. After Singh, an undocumented immigrant, filed a claim for unpaid wages, his employer allegedly reported him to federal immigration officials. He was detained for almost 15 months. It was a nightmare made even worse by the fact that Singh's employer was his own uncle, his attorneys say.

A federal court jury Thursday ordered Singh's uncle and aunt, Charanjit and Davinder Jutla, to pay $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for reporting him to the government.

"I've waited a long time for this day," Singh, 33, said in Punjabi through a translator. "I thought that I would have a good life here."

The uncle and aunt were "shocked and disappointed" by the verdict, said Sandra McNabb, their attorney.

sex workers agitate for reform 

From Yahoo News:

SAN FRANCISCO, (AFP) - San Francisco's prostitutes and strippers are calling on the city's newly elected young mayor to help decriminalize the world's oldest profession and crack down on abuses of exotic dancers.

Dancers charge that the city's outgoing mayor, Willie Brown, the former lawyer of a prominent strip club owner, ignored years of labor law and safety violations in San Francisco's strip clubs. The California Labor Commissioner has held hearings for a decade in which dancers aired grievances and recovered back pay. But dancers say the abuses continued.

Fed up with non-enforcement of labor laws, dancers have filed two class action lawsuits against the city's strip clubs charging that managers seized their tips, failed to pay them wages, and charged them hundreds of dollars per shift for the privilege of working.

collecting steelworkers stories 

From the Jeffersonian:

Ed Bartee Sr., an African-American retiree from Bethlehem Steel, recounts his efforts to integrate the bathrooms at the Sparrows Point plant after World War II.

Edie Papadakis talks about her first day as the only woman in the all-male maintenance department at the mill.

Their memories, both good and bad, form part of a collection of videotaped interviews now preserved on the Internet, thanks to the efforts of a Dundalk college instructor. "I've always been fascinated by oral histories and the stories people tell about their experiences," said Bill Barry, director of the labor studies program at the Community College of Baltimore County-Dundalk. Earlier this month Barry posted audio clips from his collection of interviews on the Web at The site was created by former CCBC-Essex student Ryan Pasterfield.

ergonomics boycott 

From Confined Spaces:

The nation's leading ergonomics experts have announced that they will boycott an upcoming ergonomics research symposium called by OSHA as part of its COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO ERGONOMICS.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, John Henshaw, is not amused. "The good scientists will engage in the process and participate like responsible people." The bad, irresponsible scientists objected to the fact that "the focus of the symposium appears to be on research topics already exhaustively reviewed."

One of the leading lies that the anti-ergonomics industry, Congressional Republicans and the Bush Administration used in their campaign to repeal the ergonomics standard was that there was no science behind ergonomics. Despite the fact that there were more good studies done on ergonomics than any other health or safety standard ever issued by OSHA, and despite a comprehensive review of the literature by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 1997, Republicans in Congress called for another review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

us attacks iraqi unions 

From The Washington Times:

LONDON, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Trade unionists around the world are protesting a U.S. raid on the head offices of the post-Saddam trade union movement in Iraq.

On Saturday, Dec. 6 American armored cars and soldiers raided the offices of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions in Baghdad, according to union sources. They reportedly trashed the offices, threw black paint over the windows and arrested eight officials.

Ironically, the soldiers tore up posters opposing terrorism in Iraq by remnants of Saddam Hussein regime and foreign fighters.

There is some confusion over what happened. The Iraqi trade unions say that the officials were released unharmed and are demanding an explanation and compensation.

walmart janitors 

From SEIU:

Last month federal immigration agents raided 60 Wal-Mart stores across the country as part of “Operation Rollback”. Reports estimate that over 250 immigrant janitors were arrested in the raids, many after working on night shift cleaning crews. Many of these workers are now in “removal proceedings,” meaning that the government is seeking to deport them from the U.S., an act that will separate family members and generate greater fear in immigrant communities.

Send a message to Michael Garcia of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement telling him not to deport these workers.

tariffs slapped on chinese tv's 

From the Labor Research Association:

US Commerce Dept. Slaps Anti-Dumping Duties on Chinese Color TVs (Dec. 18, 2003)

Trying to stem the flood of unfairly priced Chinese-made color television sets into American markets, U.S. authorities have imposed whopping duties on incoming imports from the world’s fifth largest trading nation, sparking cheers from labor and manufacturing sectors and jeers from across the Pacific.

In a preliminary ruling, the Commerce Department in late November slapped China with tariffs of 28% to 46%, in an effort to offset the effects of “dumping” products in U.S. markets by selling them below cost or market value.

. . . In their petition, Five Rivers and the two unions pointed to an astonishing 1,166% jump in color TV imports from China and Malaysia between 2000 and 2002, from 209,887 units to 2,656,456 units. Import penetration rose ten-fold during the same period, according to the IUE-CWA. Meanwhile, significant overcapacity exists among China’s leading color television producers, the petition said.

grocery strike 

From Newsday:

LOS ANGELES -- Ten weeks into a labor strike that has hit more than 800 Southern California grocery stores, talks between the supermarkets' operators and workers' union came to an abrupt end after resuming for just one day.

Negotiators for the supermarkets rejected the union's latest offer late Friday. No new talks were scheduled, but there was some movement in the dispute.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, whose members struck Safeway's Vons and Pavilions stores on Oct. 11 and were immediately locked out of Ralphs and Albertsons stores, said Friday it would pull its pickets from the stores' distribution centers. And the Teamsters union, which struck in solidarity with the UFCW, said its members would return to work at those warehouses Monday.

Donate to the Strike Support Fund

labor is a forgotten part of this economy 

From the New York Times:

THIS economic recovery is distinctly unkind to workers.

Output is clearly rising, and, normally, that would feed into both corporate profits and labor income. But while profits have shot up as a percentage of national income, reaching their highest level since the mid-1960's, labor's share is shrinking. Not since World War II has the distribution been so lopsided in the aftermath of a recession.

Profits, it turns out, never stopped rising as a share of national income all through the 2001 recession and the months afterward of weak economic growth. That did not change even as the recovery kicked in strongly last summer and hiring resumed. New data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis erases all doubt on this point.

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